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Homer and Classical Philology

Homer and Classical Philology
Title: Homer and Classical Philology
Release Date: 2006-04-17
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 25 March 2019
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Transcriber's Note:

This lecture was taken from Volume III of The Complete Works ofFriedrich Nietzsche, Dr. Oscar Levy, Ed., J. M. Kennedy,Translator, 1910


(Inaugural Address delivered at Bâle University, 28th of May 1869.)

At the present day no clear and consistent opinion seems to be heldregarding Classical Philology. We are conscious of this in the circlesof the learned just as much as among the followers of that scienceitself. The cause of this lies in its many-sided character, in the lackof an abstract unity, and in the inorganic aggregation of heterogeneousscientific activities which are connected with one another only by thename "Philology." It must be freely admitted that philology is to someextent borrowed from several other sciences, and is mixed together likea magic potion from the most outlandish liquors, ores, and bones. It mayeven be added that it likewise conceals within itself an artisticelement, one which, on æsthetic and ethical grounds, may be calledimperatival—an element that acts in opposition to its purely scientificbehaviour. Philology is composed of history just as much as of naturalscience or æsthetics: history, in so far as it endeavours to comprehendthe manifestations of the individualities of peoples in ever newimages, and the prevailing law in the disappearance of phenomena;natural science, in so far as it strives to fathom the deepest instinctof man, that of speech; æsthetics, finally, because from variousantiquities at our disposal it endeavours to pick out the so-called"classical" antiquity, with the view and pretension of excavating theideal world buried under it, and to hold up to the present the mirror ofthe classical and everlasting standards. That these wholly differentscientific and æsthetico-ethical impulses have been associated under acommon name, a kind of sham monarchy, is shown especially by the factthat philology at every period from its origin onwards was at the sametime pedagogical. From the standpoint of the pedagogue, a choice wasoffered of those elements which were of the greatest educational value;and thus that science, or at least that scientific aim, which we callphilology, gradually developed out of the practical calling originatedby the exigencies of that science itself.

These philological aims were pursued sometimes with greater ardour andsometimes with less, in accordance with the degree of culture and thedevelopment of the taste of a particular period; but, on the other hand,the followers of this science are in the habit of regarding the aimswhich correspond to their several abilities as the aims of philology;whence it comes about that the estimation of philology in public opiniondepends upon the weight of the personalities of the philologists!

At the present time—that is to say, in a period which has seen mendistinguished in almost every department of philology—a generaluncertainty of judgment has increased more and more, and likewise ageneral relaxation of interest and participation in philologicalproblems. Such an undecided and imperfect state of public opinion isdamaging to a science in that its hidden and open enemies can work withmuch better prospects of success. And philology has a great many suchenemies. Where do we not meet with them, these mockers, always ready toaim a blow at the philological "moles," the animals that practisedust-eating ex professo, and that grub up and eat for the eleventhtime what they have already eaten ten times before. For opponents ofthis sort, however, philology is merely a useless, harmless, andinoffensive pastime, an object of laughter and not of hate. But, on theother hand, there is a boundless and infuriated hatred of philologywherever an ideal, as such, is feared, where the modern man falls downto worship himself, and where Hellenism is looked upon as a supersededand hence very insignificant point of view. Against these enemies, wephilologists must always count upon the assistance of artists and men ofartistic minds; for they alone can judge how the sword of barbarismsweeps over the head of every one who loses sight of the unutterablesimplicity and noble dignity of the Hellene; and how no progress incommerce or technical industries, however brilliant, no schoolregulations, no political education of the masses, however widespreadand complete, can protect us from the curse of ridiculous and barbaricoffences against good taste, or from annihilation by the Gorgon head ofthe classicist.

Whilst philology as a whole is looked on with jealous eyes by these twoclasses of opponents, there are numerous and varied hostilities in otherdirections of philology; philologists themselves are quarrelling withone another; internal dissensions are caused by useless disputes aboutprecedence and mutual jealousies, but especially by thedifferences—even enmities—comprised in the name of philology, whichare not, however, by any means naturally harmonised instincts.

Science has this in common with art, that the most ordinary, everydaything appears to it as something entirely new and attractive, as ifmetamorphosed by witchcraft and now seen for the first time. Life isworth living, says art, the beautiful temptress; life is worth knowing,says science. With this contrast the so heartrending and dogmatictradition follows in a theory, and consequently in the practice ofclassical philology derived from this theory. We may consider antiquityfrom a scientific point of view; we may try to look at what has happenedwith the eye of a historian, or to arrange and compare the linguisticforms of ancient masterpieces, to bring them at all events under amorphological law; but we always lose the wonderful creative force, thereal fragrance, of the atmosphere of antiquity; we forget thatpassionate emotion which instinctively drove our meditation andenjoyment back to the Greeks. From this point onwards we must takenotice of a clearly determined and very surprising antagonism whichphilology has great cause to regret. From the circles upon whose help wemust place the most implicit reliance—the artistic friends ofantiquity, the warm supporters of Hellenic beauty and noblesimplicity—we hear harsh voices crying out that it is precisely thephilologists themselves who are the real opponents and destroyers of theideals of antiquity. Schiller upbraided the philologists with havingscattered Homer's laurel crown to the winds. It was none other thanGoethe who, in early life a supporter of Wolf's theories regardingHomer, recanted in the verses—

With subtle wit you took away
Our former adoration:
The Iliad, you may us say,
Was mere conglomeration.
Think it not crime in any way:
Youth's fervent adoration
Leads us to know the verity,
And feel the poet's unity.

The reason of this want of piety and reverence must lie deeper; and manyare in doubt as to whether philologists are lacking in artistic capacityand impressions, so that they are unable to do justice to the ideal, orwhether the spirit of negation has become a destructive and iconoclasticprinciple of theirs. When, however, even the friends of antiquity,possessed of such doubts and hesitations, point to our present classicalphilology as something questionable, what influence may we not ascribeto the outbursts of the "realists" and the claptrap of the heroes of thepassing hour? To answer the latter on this occasion, especially when weconsider the nature of the present assembly, would be highlyinjudicious; at any rate, if I do not wish to meet with the fate ofthat sophist who, when in Sparta, publicly undertook to praise anddefend Herakles, when he was interrupted with the query: "But who thenhas found fault with him?" I cannot help thinking, however, that some ofthese scruples are still sounding in the ears of not a few in thisgathering; for they may still be frequently heard from the lips of nobleand artistically gifted men—as even an upright philologist must feelthem, and feel them most painfully, at moments when his spirits aredowncast. For the single individual there is no deliverance from thedissensions referred to; but what we contend and inscribe on our banneris the fact that classical philology, as a whole, has nothing whatsoeverto do with the quarrels and bickerings of its individual disciples. Theentire scientific and artistic movement of this peculiar centaur isbent, though with cyclopic slowness, upon bridging over the gulf betweenthe ideal antiquity—which is perhaps only the magnificent blossoming ofthe Teutonic longing for the south—and the real antiquity; and thusclassical philology pursues only the final end of its own being, whichis the fusing together of primarily hostile impulses that have onlyforcibly been brought together. Let us talk as we will about theunattainability of this goal, and even designate the goal itself as anillogical pretension—the aspiration for it is very real; and I shouldlike to try to make it clear by an example that the most significantsteps of classical philology never lead away from the ideal antiquity,but to it; and that, just when people are speaking unwarrantably of theoverthrow of sacred shrines, new and more worthy altars are beingerected. Let us then examine the so-called Homeric question from thisstandpoint, a question the most important problem of which Schillercalled a scholastic barbarism.

The important problem referred to is the question of the personality ofHomer.

We now meet everywhere with the firm opinion that the question ofHomer's personality is no longer timely, and that it is quite adifferent thing from the real "Homeric question." It may be added that,for a given period—such as our present philological period, forexample—the centre of discussion may be removed from the problem of thepoet's personality; for even now a painstaking experiment is being madeto reconstruct the Homeric poems without the aid of personality,treating them as the work of several different persons. But if thecentre of a scientific question is rightly seen to be where the swellingtide of new views has risen up, i.e. where individual scientificinvestigation comes into contact with the whole life of science andculture—if any one, in other words, indicates a historico-culturalvaluation as the central point of the question, he must also, in theprovince of Homeric criticism, take his stand upon the question ofpersonality as being the really fruitful oasis in the desert of thewhole argument. For in Homer the modern world, I will not say haslearnt, but has examined, a great historical point of view; and, evenwithout now putting forward my own opinion as to whether thisexamination has been or can be happily carried out, it was at allevents the first example of the application of that productive point ofview. By it scholars learnt to recognise condensed beliefs in theapparently firm, immobile figures of the life of ancient peoples; by itthey for the first time perceived the wonderful capability of the soulof a people to represent the conditions of its morals and beliefs in theform of a personality. When historical criticism has confidently seizedupon this method of evaporating apparently concrete personalities, it ispermissible to point to the first experiment as an important event inthe history of sciences, without considering whether it was successfulin this instance or not.

It is a common occurrence for a series of striking signs and wonderfulemotions to precede an epoch-making discovery. Even the experiment Ihave just referred to has its own attractive history; but it goes backto a surprisingly ancient era. Friedrich August Wolf has exactlyindicated the spot where Greek antiquity dropped the question. Thezenith of the historico-literary studies of the Greeks, and hence alsoof their point of greatest importance—the Homeric question—was reachedin the age of the Alexandrian grammarians. Up to this time the Homericquestion had run through the long chain of a uniform process ofdevelopment, of which the standpoint of those grammarians seemed to bethe last link, the last, indeed, which was attainable by antiquity. Theyconceived the Iliad and the Odyssey as the creations of onesingle Homer; they declared it to be psychologically possible for two suchdifferent works to have sprung from the brain of one genius, incontradiction to the Chorizontes, who represented the extreme limit ofthe scepticism of a few detached individuals of antiquity rather thanantiquity itself considered as a whole. To explain the different generalimpression of the two books on the assumption that one poet composedthem both, scholars sought assistance by referring to the seasons of thepoet's life, and compared the poet of the Odyssey to the setting sun.The eyes of those critics were tirelessly on the lookout fordiscrepancies in the language and thoughts of the two poems; but at thistime also a history of the Homeric poem and its tradition was prepared,according to which these discrepancies were not due to Homer, but tothose who

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